Top performing secondary schools are hitting out at radical plans to shake-up post-primary education in Northern Ireland.
A growing number of high schools in the Catholic sector are expressing concerns about Church proposals to create a network of all-abilities institutions.
A report by the Northern Ireland Commission for Catholic Education this year made recommendations for each of the sector’s post-primary schools.
One of those schools facing major upheaval took its fight to Stormont. Parents are angry at a proposal to amalgamate three Fermanagh post-primary schools – St Comhghall’s in Lisnaskea, St Eugene’s in Roslea and St Aidan’s in Derrylin.
A group from Derrylin are developing alternative proposals, which would see an 11 to 16 post-primary school remain in the village. They say the way ahead for the south west area of Fermanagh is on a collaborative basis with schools in other sectors.
Another leading secondary criticised the plans as “discriminatory and unfair”. Isobel Russell, the new principal of Holy Trinity College in Cookstown, Co Tyrone, wrote to parishioners urging them to reject the proposed reforms. The 900-pupil college is one of the top-performing non-selective schools in the North. The school wants to expand to accommodate 1,300 pupils.
While the report says an 11 to 19 co-educational school should remain in Cookstown, it recommends the “potential impact” on other schools in the greater Dungannon area be assessed before any expansion. Holy Trinity says this will “relegate Cookstown and its children to second class status”.
St Columban’s College in Kilkeel, Co Down is also voicing concerns. The plan for its area would see it closed and children transfer to the neighbouring grammar school, which will be increased in size.
However, while the Church wants the grammar school to become non-selective to be able to admit the displaced children, the grammar school itself intends to continue using 11-plus tests.
In a letter the school says: “The failure of so many grammar schools to embrace the all-ability ethos means that academic selection will continue to be used to discriminate against and segregate children.”
Staff are, therefore, demanding those in power end the uncertainty by giving a clear “statement of intent to merge and create one all-ability school”.